Napster, Rhapsody: Curiously Strong Boosters for Sade

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Sade is once against sitting atop the album charts for the third straight week, a success story that feels more like 2001 than 2010.

In the most recent period, Soldier of Love scored sales of nearly 127,000, according to Nielsen Soundscan, bringing the three-week tally to more than 820,000.  After smashing gold in its debut week with sales of roughly 502,000, Sade is suddenly staring at a platinum threshold.

Results like these are extremely rare.  In fact, Sade’s last album – Lovers Rock, released in 2000 – sold ‘just’ 370,000 during its first week.  And that was on the strength of an arguably stronger lead single, “By Your Side.”

But “Soldier of Love,” the like-titled lead single from the latest release, also stirred a reaction.  But the best chart positions online for this song happened on Napster and Rhapsody, not iTunes or other major outlets.  According to data tracked by BigChampagne within its BC Dash interface, “Soldier” download rankings peaked at 27th on the iTunes Store (US), yet it reached 20th on Napster and 9th on Rhapsody.

But MP3s are arguably extras for Rhapsody and Napster, and the far greater successes came from subscription-native formats.  On Rhapsody, on-demand plays on “Soldier of Love” peaked at 4th within the service, and subscription downloads on Napster peaked at 9.  By comparison, the same song topped out at 208th on MySpace Music.

So why is Sade making subscription look so good?  Napster actually did little setup around this release, though the audience seemed better-suited for this type of artist and track.  According to Napster executive Jennifer Wilbur, Sade was “a perfect fit for the Napster demographic,” an older-leaning crowd that often shows a preference for urban content.  “We have done no additional marketing or special strategic moves with the release other than a few highlights here and there on Facebook and Twitter, as well as two blog posts,” Wilbur told Digital Music News.  And yet, the album sold 4-times the average new release on Napster, according to Wilbur.

So, what is ‘older-leaning’ exactly?  According to stats shared by the Best Buy-owned company, three-fourths of the audience is 25 or older, and more than half are 35-plus.  The male-female split is 67-33, and of course, these are ‘regular, paying customers,’ an increasingly rare breed in this business.

Step into the more traditional worlds of CD-buying and full album downloads, and that type of crowd is making serious waves.  Online, that includes top-ranked album positions on Rhapsody and Napster, but also number-one peak positions on both iTunes and Walmart.com, also according to BigChampagne.  The rest is coming from a crowd that still buys CDs, and when targeted correctly, creates the type of old-school success that Sade is enjoying.

Report by publisher Paul Resnikoff.